I. remain. available.

You have to live under a rock or be completely off the grid to not hear the news of the latest sexual scandal that is rocking the core of Hollywood’s elite.  One of Hollywood’s biggest names is having to answer for multiple skeletons coming out of his closet at an alarming rate, from rape to unwanted sexual advances and every accusation in-between.  This story is dominating the headlines and overshadowing international news – no small feat with the current circus-like administration.  Given the man’s high profile nature, we should expect to find more and more women who will finally come forward and tell their tale.

Sexual misconduct and scandal are not uncommon news stories among the celebrity culture we live in.  Every few months we learn of a politician, athlete, musician or actor who finds themselves at the epicenter of immoral controversy.  Sadly, the sinful details don’t surprise me anymore.  Every human heart is capable of every evil deed.   I know (first-hand) what it’s like to live a double life and shock your inner circle.

While Harvey’s sins have been described as “egregious” and “disgusting” what struck me today was not the depravity of the deeds but the response of his friend.

Another Hollywood mogul and long-time friend (Jeffrey Katzenberg) wrote the following in an email to his friend, now made public:

“You have done terrible things to a number of women over a period of years.

I cannot in any way say this is OK with me…It’s not at all, and I am sickened by it, angry with you and incredibly disappointed in you.

There appear to be two Harvey Weinsteins…one that I have known well, appreciated and admired and another that I have not known at all.

As someone who has been a friend of yours for 30 years, I’m available to give you advice on how to at least try to make amends, if possible address those that you’ve wronged, and just possibly find a path to heal and redeem yourself. Having watched your reactions, seen the actions you have taken and read your statement, I will tell you, in my opinion, you have gone about this all wrong and you are continuing to make a horrible set of circumstances even worse.

I doubt this is what you want to hear from me and most likely you aren’t interested in my advice but this is the way I see it.  I remain available.”   – JK

****************************

I can sympathize with the accused.  As a man who once held a high profile position of sorts, I have had to come to terms with the countless demons from my past while in the fishbowl of public scrutiny.  Though our sins are quite different, the ash-heap he currently sits in is the same.  More and more people are distancing themselves from Harvey as they don’t want their name (or brand) associated with Hollywood’s latest leper.  I remember all too well the mass exodus of relationships that I experienced when my sins were made public many years ago.  It’s a special type of rejection.   It’s an acute emotional pain – even if we “deserve it.”

I understand Mr. Katzenberg’s reaction.  He’s naturally “sickened,” “angry” and “disappointed.”  He’s coming to grips with the reality that there was a Harvey he never knew, a shocking revelation from someone he spent 30 years “knowing.”

It’s easy to be disgusted by someone’s behavior, especially if those behaviors are truly foreign to your own temptations.  It’s easy to pick up a stone of judgment and throw it at the accused, especially when everyone would agree he deserves the social pummeling.   It’s easy to “write off” a relationship – especially when that relationship was – at its core – deceptive.  In fact, it’d be easier to just quietly walk away justifying that he’s a “lost cause.”  Why write an email or spend more time in this fallen friendship when Mr. Katzenberg undoubtedly has hundreds of other friends who are more palatable to love?

I think that is what struck me about Mr. Katzenberg’s email.  He chose not to do any of the easy choices before him.  While he rightfully condemns Harvey’s actions, he doesn’t change his phone number.  He hates Harvey’s sin but does not hate Harvey the sinner.  He doesn’t distance himself from leprosy.  He doesn’t try to protect his brand.  Going against the powerful public flow, he drops the rock of judgment, offers to sit down in the ash-heap and communicates the 3 most important words that every Harvey longs to hear:

I. remain. available.

 

Even now.

Prior to these painful revelations, the world was available to Harvey.

  • He had a good reputation.
  • He had respect.
  • He had power.
  • He had prestige.
  • He had money.
  • He had connections.
  • He had clout.

He had everything that everyone (Hollywood or not) wanted to have.  Weeks later, he’s virtually lost it all.  There is simply no room for such luxuries on an ash-heap.  Celebrities cannot distance themselves fast enough. Politicians who gladly accepted his enormous campaign donations suddenly find themselves unwilling to lend him a moral penny in his greatest hour of need.  History has shown humans to be fickle like that.  One week we can shout “Hosanna in the highest” and the next week, “Crucify Him.”  Without a doubt, Harvey can count on one hand the number of friends who “remain available,” especially publicly.

Contrast this news story with the other dominating news story this week; the raging fires in California.   The devastation is surreal and hard to watch.   Dozens are dead, hundreds have lost homes and thousands are now displaced with little idea of what to do next.   As I watch the fires burn, I hear the emerging stories of the first responders, the brave souls who are going in when others are going out.  While the masses are running from, these heroes are running to.   Why?   Why would someone risk so much to save a total stranger?   Money?  Fame?  Prestige?  What motivates a first responder to commit such acts of bravery – especially with nothing to personally gain?   I think there is only one answer:

Because the ones in danger are worth saving.

At this point, few probably think that Harvey is worth saving.  Like the fire, his deeds have caused enormous damage and have left a trail of destruction for those he burned.  Harvey himself may wonder if the “path to healing and redemption” are possible, let alone worth it.

This is why Katzenberg’s email is not only remarkable but necessary to highlight.   He’s running to his friend while everyone else is running from.  It doesn’t minimize the victim’s plight or the weight of Harvey’s actions.  It doesn’t ignore the fact that there are very real consequences (professionally, socially and legally) that may need to be faced.  But it shows us something that few understand the importance of – especially in the midst of public failure; healing and redemption are necessary pursuits.

Because Harvey has money?   No.  Because he makes good films?   No.

Simply because Harvey has value even when his actions are worthless.

The ignorant tend to put people into two categories; good and bad.   If someone does an action I like, they are good.  If someone does an action that hurts me, they are bad.  We are much too complicated to be labeled like that.  The problem is that all of us, according to the Bible, have done bad and fallen short of the Heavenly standard (Romans 3).  While some sins cause greater damage and deliver greater consequences – all sins place us on common ground – in the soiled ash-heap.  G.K. Chesterton summarizes the human condition best, “There is but an inch of difference between a cushioned chamber and a padded cell.”

The truth is, wounded people wound people and we are all wounded.  We tend to hurt others in the areas where we lack healing and no amount of money, fame or accomplishment changes that.  I’m not justifying Harvey’s actions, merely explaining them.  Unless we find healing, we will continue to hurt others.  And sometimes we need help finding healing.

While the masses are distancing themselves from Harvey, Katzenberg offers proximity, healing, help, and hope.

His three-word response should challenge all of us the next time we discover the moral leper in our midst:

I remain available.

Do you?

 

  • “If anyone is caught in a sin, who you are spiritual, should restore him gently.” (Galatians 6:2)
  • “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

 

 

A word about your worth

rod artersThe other day, during my travels, I had to visit a restroom in a run-down gas station.  Public bathroom visits are never a preferred option but gas station bathrooms, for most sane human beings, are to be avoided at all costs.  Sadly, it was either visit this glorified outhouse on my long road trip or wet my pants.  I actually thought about the latter option.

The men’s room in a gas station is consistently nasty.  Whereas I have heard that female restrooms are colorful, fragrant epicenters of happiness – the men’s room is where all things nasty go to die.   Chipped paint on the walls, graffiti i messages on the doors, cracked mirrors, leaky faucets and trash littering the floor are commonplace sightings.  What can you expect from an understaffed, underpaid place where men who can’t aim go to dump their waste?   Upon entering the bathroom and walking over the paper towel trash pile inevitably left on the floor, every man instinctly looks for the open urinal or stall.   Whereas women like to travel to a restroom en masse, men prefer it to be a solo experience.

On this particular day, there was only one stall available between two oversized men.   Ugh.  I reluctantly saddled over to the lone urinal, annoyed that I cannot take care of business with more privacy and realized immediately why this stall was ominiously “available.”   At the bottom of this urinal, seemingly strategically placed in this odd place, was a picture of Abraham Lincoln.   After all, his picture, familiar to us all, is the image on every five dollar bill.

In most men’s rooms – there is a shortage of things to look at while you are… making the bladder gladder.   But when you are in there with other men, it is imperative that you are very careful not to let your eyes wander East or West.  This particular day, my gaze was fixed upon Lincoln.   I wondered who had put a $5 bill in the urinal.  Was this some sort of reality show prank and I was unwittingly their next contestant?  I wondered if it was a crime to “Number One” on Honest Abe in this fashion.  I wondered how long it had been there and why no one had rescued it from its cruel fate.   Actually, I didn’t wonder about that one too long.

A plethora of thoughts filled my head about the unfortunate bill.   (Clearly I drank too much that afternoon.)   I considered its unfavorable position.  I pondered its unfriendly treatment.  I wondered where it had been prior to this.  I wondered what things it was able to do in the past.   When it came off the press at the Mint, it had a bright future.  Certainly this isn’t what the makers of the money had in mind for this particular piece of currency?

As I reflected the deeper meaning behind this bill’s fate, a prominent thought came to mind:

There are many days when I relate to this bill.

Stuck.

Misplaced.

Mistreated.

Undervalued.

Unfulfilled.

Used.

Abused.

Not fulfilling the purpose for which I was created.

Do you relate?   If you’re honest, you probably have felt this way too, especially if you have spent time at the bottom of life’s urinal.

Noah had to relate to this feeling when he was called by God to build an ark prior to the impending flood. The only problem is that no one had ever seen an ark or flood before.   God failed to mention it would take him over 100 years to build.   I can only imagine the ridicule he faced for a century on this “project from God.”  (Genesis 6)

Joseph had to relate.   After experiencing lofty dreams about his bright future, he finds himself languishing in an Egyptian prison for two years – with no forseeable hope of getting out.  (Genesis 37-40)

David had to relate.   Annointed to be the next King of Israel (I Samuel 16), he spent the next 20 years of his life as a fugitive waiting for the day that the annointed would finally be appointed.

Paul had to relate.   Called by God in spectacular fashion (Acts 9), he eventually finds himself incarcerated for his newfound faith and pastoring several churches while in chains.

Hosea had to relate.   Called by God to marry a prostitute, he spends his entire marriage to someone trying to love them in spite of wayward unfaithfulness.  If anyone felt “stuck” in a relationship, it had to be him.

The list of biblical characters that seemingly felt mistreated, used, forgotten, is endless.

Over the last few years I have really struggled with my sense of worth.   When you commit major league sins in the midst of minor league sinners (church folk), it can mess with your perception of worth. Whereas I used to be Christianity’s darling because I could write, speak and spin all the necessary spiritual plates, I have found myself on the other end of respect, stuck like a piece of gum on the bottom of self-righteous religious shoes.   The people I used to lead don’t follow.  The ones that used to take notes have stopped listening.

Here’s the thing that $5 dollar bill taught me that day.   It’s a profound truth, if you stop long enough to absorb it.

It’s still worth $5 dollars.

It’s not worth less because it’s at the bottom of a urinal.

It’s not worth less because of it’s level of abuse or misuse.

It’s not worth less because no one wants to touch it anymore.

It’s still, all day long, worth $5 dollars, simply because it has intrinsic value.

Intrinsic.

Look that word up in the dictionary.

(adjective)   in·trin·sic, belonging naturally; essential, innate, inborn, comes from within, built-in, inherent. 

In other words, it means belonging to a thing by its very nature.

Dogs are intrinsically loyal.   Cats are intrinsically independent.   God is intrinsically loving.

Sometimes I forget this truth, imbedded into the D.N.A. of every human being, myself included.

There is no crime that can remove my intrinsic value.   There is no sin that can erase one’s essential worth.

Not.one.   So, dear reader, be encouraged.

Where do you find yourself in today’s moral climate?   Do you feel, because of your past, at the bottom of life’s urinal?   Do you feel, because of past sins, like a piece of moral gum on the bottom of judgemental shoes?    Do others make you feel like you’re a modern day social leper?    You’re actually in good company.

Jesus’ company.

As the Son of God and the Author of Life, He could have entered our planet on a cosmic meteor with the thunderous announcement of Angels.  Instead, He came through an unplanned, scandalous pregnancy – born into a stable, largely unnoticed by the planet He created.   He could have entered among the Papacy or prestigious.  Instead, He chose an audience of paupers.

As a sovereign God, He could have demanded worship from every living creature He encountered. Instead, He walked among us in the flesh, choosing limitations and mistreatment, instead of the royal red carpet only He deserves.

And where did He spend His time?   Who captured His attention more than anyone else?

The sinners.    The societal rejects.    The spiritually sick.

  • Tax collectors.
  • Gentiles.
  • Prostitutes.
  • The physically disabled.
  • Women.
  • The demoniacs.
  • Children.
  • Roman soldiers.
  • Lepers.

Yesterday, I was walking in a parking lot and stepped over a penny.   I stopped for a minute, aware of this blog, and wondered…

“How many penny’s have I walked over in my life simply because it did not hold enough value in my mind to reach down and bring it into my world?”

Too many.

How many people have I stepped over because I was too important to stop?

Too many.

The next time you see money in a place where it shouldn’t be, do what you can to rescue it from it’s place of unuse and let it remind you that God has plans for those whom the world rejects.

They hold intrinsic value – not because of what they can do for us – but simply because they exist.

I know I need that reminder.

And God came to earth to give it to me, even me.

Lessons from a suicidal cat

Earlier this week, I saw a kitten dart onto a very busy, heavily trafficked street.  I knew immediately that this was not going to end well.  (You have been warned.)

It’s commonly held that cats have nine lives.  I was convinced I was going to see one of hers vanish right before my eyes.  In fact, I was shocked the cat did not meet an instant, painful death.  Somehow, it barely avoided being struck by a truck and found its way underneath – momentarily safe.

The wind of the moving truck must have knocked it off balance and she began rolling end over end.   With the truck driving on and other traffic fast approaching, the feline was clearly off-balance and disoriented. As she got back on all fours – she darted one direction and then suddenly the other.   She moved with the erratic grace of a schizophrenic squirrel.  Clearly recognizing her life-threatening environment, she sprinted to the curb narrowly missing other vehicles and instinctively leaped over the nearby guard rail – presumably for safety.

lessons from a suicidal catAfter watching a heart wrenching eight seconds of Frogger, I was excited to see the little gal make it to safety.  Then, my heart dropped.   I realized the guard rail she leaped over was…

…on a bridge that led to a busy highway some fifty feet below.  #thiscatonlyhadonelife

I’ve had a few days to process this disturbing scene and came away with some thoughts that apply to our human experience:

Sometimes we make really poor decisions because we are lost, scared and unaware of their consequences.

As I look back at my life at some of the poor decisions I have made, the worst moments were often made when I was emotionally or spiritually scrambling.  Like the kitten, I was standing in the middle of oncoming relational traffic and simply trying to survive.   I moved right or left – not because they were the best places to go but simply because it avoided me getting run over from the particular truck I was facing at the moment.  In such a chaotic state, ones thinking is clouded and it’s almost impossible to know the impact of your decisions – especially on those who love and depend on you.  This cat was stuck in a physically lethal rut.  Many times, we find ourselves in emotional ones.

I’m not sure what enticed the cat to run into oncoming traffic.  Maybe it was a blind mouse?  Perhaps it was spooked by something else and that seemed like the best decision in the moment?   Sometimes it takes situations like these for clarity to kick in.  From that point on, this kitten found herself in over her head and doing her best to survive.  She wanted help but had no idea where to get it.   Can you relate?

You’ve seen this scenario before, maybe not with cats but people;

  • The homeless man begging for food.
  • The divorced Mom looking for love in all the wrong places.
  • The young professional who escapes to porn.
  • The alcoholic step-Dad with an anger issue.
  • The teenage girl who cuts herself.
  • The church leader who drinks more than he prays.

Regardless of age or gender, we see hurting people all the time just trying to survive their particular pain and their choice of survival seems counter-productive, if not self-destructive. Relationships and trust are damaged in these dangerous environments.

As I have surveyed the landscape of hurting people, I have noticed two things to be true.

One, we tend to judge those who sin differently than us.   It’s easy to condemn pornography when you struggle with gluttony.   It’s effortless to throw a moral stone at an adulterer when your darling sin is cursing.   As long as you find a vice in another that makes your vice look less menacing, you perpetuate a wrong attitude toward those who are just as sinful as you, just struggling with a different sin.

Last week, I was sitting in my buddy’s truck at a red light.  A few seconds later we heard a horrible crash outside my passenger window and saw three cars next to ours involved in a pile up at the light.  Instantly, I jumped out of his vehicle and ran over to the cars involved, two of which had their airbags deployed and clearly had drivers in need of medical attention. As I attended the scene as the first person on site, I didn’t ask who was responsible.  I didn’t try to figure out fault. That needed to come later from someone more qualified than myself.  My job was simply to help the hurting.

This brings me to my second point:

We seem to have more compassion for those in a physical mess and less sympathy for those in a moral one.  We naturally want to help a cute kitten in traffic.  They deserve to be rescued.  As for the home wreckers, they simply need to be hung.   When someone is in a car accident, we suspend judgment and rush to offer sympathies and aid.   We don’t find out who was responsible for the wreck and determine their treatment based on that.  But when the “wreck” is entirely moral or relational in nature, we will often let the instigator rot in their emotional collision.  Why is that?  Why are we quick to help those in physical pain but gossip, slander and withhold our assistance from those writhing in moral pain?

To be clear, I’m not trying to defend the decisions of those who make poor moral choices.  I’m merely suggesting that those of us who have fallen morally have done so because we were lost, scared, and in our own pain and unaware of the inevitable consequences – as obvious as they may be.  Perhaps it is because we cannot understand their sin therefore it’s easier to judge it?

And this leads me to the second lesson of the fallen cat:

Oftentimes, all we need is someone (on the outside) willing to help us find our way home.

The cat, almost immediately, needed help.   She knew she was in trouble.  She knew she needed assistance.  If only she had someone on the outside in a position to help her, she would still be with us today.   Most anyone would “jump in” to help a struggling kitten but we are less likely to offer the same enthusiasm to help a stranger in need, especially if their need is self-inflicted.  We are even more reluctant to help someone who sins egregiously because they “deserve whatever comes to them.”   Instead of realizing “there but by the grace of God go I” – we quickly climb our shaky moral ladder to the ivory tower of pride and throw as many stones as we can at those who desperately need support.

How does a homeless man get a second chance?  How do people recover from an addiction?  How does a divorced person rebound from a broken family?   How does someone who’s been evicted find housing again?   Usually only with help.   Like the cat on the street, they aren’t going to make it without some assistance.

You know what I didn’t see that day?   A bunch of other cats on the curb condemning their feline counterpart.   The kitten’s parents weren’t there meowing their disapproval at the cat’s poor decision.  The cat’s neighbors, siblings or “friends” were not there hissing at the cat’s predicament.  Apparently only we do that.   Had the cat family been there to witness it, they would have done anything they could to save the life of their feline.   And once she was safe, on the curb, they would have licked her wounds and nurtured her back to health.

Sadly, we rarely do that.   We like to give lectures.  We like to point out the mistakes.  We enjoy making others feel bad for the wrong decisions they make.   We revel in the “I told you so” moments – especially when our advice is revealed as wise.   But is that what is really needed?   Can a lecture bring healing like a hug can?   Does pointing out the mistakes create the “aha” moment, or do “aha” moments more frequently come with grace?

Years ago, I had a close friend who confessed to me, in a moment of transparency – a moral failure he had experienced with his (at the time) girlfriend.   As a fellow Christian and youth worker, I was shocked that he had fallen into such sin.  I couldn’t believe he didn’t keep a higher sexual standard.  I was disappointed in his lack of self control and repeated nature of the offense and let him know so.  I tried to be compassionate but truthfully, it felt manufactured.  In case he didn’t feel bad enough for his mistake, I felt the moral obligation to let him know my disappointment.  Looking back, I felt it was my duty to express moral outrage and God’s displeasure.  I handled it all wrong.

Fast forward 20 years.   I was now the one in the position to confess.  I needed to come clean about the double life I had been living, while in the ministry, and share my sins with this dear brother in the faith.  I fully deserved a verbal lashing.  I was completely expecting him to throw the first stone at me.  In fact, to save time – he could have just used the one I hit him with some two decades earlier.  I braced myself for judgment, however, it never came.  Instead, of feeling the guilitine, I felt grace.  Instead of condemnation, he offered compassion.  I can’t even begin to tell you how healing that was for me.  It didn’t excuse my behavior.  He didn’t condone my actions.  It didn’t remove any consequences.  But he did something that day that lectures and sermons and ostracization just can’t do:

Bring healing.

He rolled up his sleeves and tried to help, as someone who truly understood the temptation and struggle. In doing so, he helped me come home.

Is there anything better than that?   The prodigal son didn’t think so (Luke 15).   After years of poor decisions and reckless choices, he came back to the only place that ever truly loved him:

Home.

And what was waiting for him?

  • A lecture?    Nope.
  • A cold shoulder?   Nope.
  • Harsh treatment?   Nope.
  • A long list of things he had to do to get back in good standing?   Nope.

He was greeted with a hug.  And given clean clothes and a huge party and a second chance.

Who does that?

Someone who understands what it’s like to be in the middle of rush hour traffic without a prayer.

For those of you out there who relate to the cat, this message is for you:

Come home.

 

It’s time.

 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lordthe Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life;  the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” – Psalm 121

 

A father’s warning against adultery

For thousands of years, parents have been giving their children advice at all different times for all different reasons and on all different topics:andrew and me walking

  • “Eat your vegetables”
  • “Sit still”
  • “Take a bath”
  • “Go to sleep”
  • “Say thank you”
  • “Clean your room”
  • “Be kind”

If we are honest, most of the time that advice is unwanted and unsolicited – which is why we so desperately need it.  No kid ever runs with scissors thinking, “I wish I had a ‘grownup’ to tell me if this is a good idea.”   No child ponders the many benefits of bathing.

Instead, as the Scriptures teach, “foolishness is bound up within the heart of a child.” (Proverbs 22:15)  This makes sense.  Since a small child has never touched a hot stove before, how can they possibly know the pain that is about to scream in their small fingers?   Children don’t know what they don’t know.  This is one of the primary reasons why we need parents in our lives to help guide us along the way.  Parents have often been where children are heading.  Our scars come from a painful past.  Even if we haven’t touched the proverbial stove ourselves, we’ve been tempted and our ancient perspective allows us the ability to forsee the pitfalls a child simply cannot see.  As parents, we KNOW what happens when you don’t “eat your vegetables” or “go to sleep.”   Though there are other authorities in our life that can certainly help guide us (relatives, pastors, teachers, police, etc), none are quite as motivated like that of a parent.

A casual reader of my blog can see that I have a sordid past.   I have tripped and fallen while running with moral scissors.  I have not always colored within the lines.  I have touched more stoves than I can count.  Some discredit me because of it and deem me a poor teacher.  From my perspective, my sins were the tuition to the most expensive school in the land, EU – Experience University.   To be honest, I hold honorary degrees I wish I never earned.  But as a highly educated fool, I have a responsibility to share what I know with others, especially my own children.

If you have been paying attention to the news lately, adultery is once again front page material.  With the recent hack of the Ashley Madison website and the continued exposure of the names of those who were members, infidelity is wreaking havoc on the lives of millions of families.

Given the sad state of relational affairs (pun intended), I thought it was time to post a heartfelt letter about the topic – from a father’s perspective to his son.   All parental advice should be listened to simply because of that unique relationship.  But some parental advice is so packed with street cred that only a foolish child would choose to ignore it.   This letter, penned to a beloved son, is that such letter.

It is no secret that this particular father had numerous illicit relationships.  Because of this, he can offer an extremely unique perspective.  More than most, he understands the temptation and deception of the human heart and more than anything – wants his children to avoid his path.  If you don’t have a father who shared such wisdom with you, consider this wisdom as coming directly from him. (Though this letter is written from a father to his son, it obviously applies to daughters as well.)

And to my two boys, if you read this one day, please listen.  It is truth purchased at an incredibly painful price.

“Dear son,

(1-2) Please listen to what I’m about to share with you.   I beg that you stop what you are doing and really hear me.   These next few minutes can keep you from a world of hurt.

(3-6) In time, you will encounter an adulterous woman and her lying lips will seem like a sweet candy to your ears.  Her candy will give you a lifetime of cavities.  Her speech, though flattering, is deceptive.  Her words will cut you like a knife.  She walks down a street of destruction and following her will lead you straight to the grave.   She is lost and she will lead you into the land of the lost.

(7) Please listen to me and do not ignore this letter. Keep it somewhere safe and refer to it often, especially when you’re married.

(8-14) Do not go near this woman.  Stay as far away from her and her house as you can.  Don’t even drive by her neighborhood, lest you fall prey to the deceiving thoughts of your strength.   Taking her hand will bring a mere moment of pleasure and a lifetime of irreversible regret.  You will lose everything you have worked hard for. 

Every.Thing. 

Trust me on this.  I don’t want you living with regrets that you can never change.  I don’t want you haunted with the voices that will scream, “Why did I not listen to my Dad’s words?  Why did I ignore his instruction?  How did I get in this position – even as a Christian?” 

(15-20) Son, would you eat food found in the dumpster?  Would you quench your thirst with water from a street puddle?  Of course not!  Eat food from your own plate and drink water from your own trusted bottle.  Don’t open your heart and body to a total stranger.  Blessing is found in the context of marriage.  Concentrate all your energies on your wife.  Discover the treasure of that relationship. May her body alone satisfy you always.  Get drunk with her love.  Why get intoxicated with another man’ wife?  Why get entangled with a woman of poor character?

(21) Don’t be deceived, you will get caught.  And even if you escape the notice of men, everything you do is in plain view of God’s sight.  Every night He is keenly aware of the bed you lie in.

(22) Being with an adulterous woman is like willingly walking into jail.  You will lose precious freedoms. 

(23) This decision can cost you your marriage, family, career, reputation, friendships and income and if you choose this, you will be led astray by complete and utter foolishness.

Love,

Dad

(This above letter was originally written by King Solomon to his son as recorded in Proverbs 5.  Obviously, the passage above was paraphrased and placed in modern context – particularly for my boys.)

The insecurity of security

The story is told of former World Champion Boxer, Muhammad Ali, seated on a commercial airliner when the flight attendant noticed his seat belt was unfastened.  He was given the gentle reminder like every other passenger:

“Mr. Ali, you need to put on your seat belt since we are about to take off.”

His response, filled with hubris, was immediate and abrasive:

“Superman don’t need no seat belt.”

Without missing a beat, the flight attendant snapped back,

“Superman don’t need no plane.”

By all accounts Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest boxers of all time. Not surprisingly, he was also one of the most prideful.  Greatness and pride tend to go hand in hand.  In front of his challengers, fans and the media he would repeatedly brag about his own accomplishments and abilities and use his bravado to intimidate his opponents.  In his prime, Ali is recorded as saying the following:

  • “I’m the greatest.  I said that even before I knew I was.”
  • ” Not only do I knock ’em out.  I pick the round.”
  • “It’s hard to be humble when you are as great as I am.”
  • “If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize.”

Clearly, Ali felt secure in his abilities to win in the ring.  No one, he believed, could beat him.  After a solid decade of fighting, no one could.   From New York to Los Angeles, Canada to Germany – he was truly unstoppable.  So invincible was he, even wearing a seat belt on a plane was apparently unnecessary.

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In 1996, at the age 20, James Altucher left his I.T. position at HBO to open his own company, Reset, Inc., a website design firm.  By the end of his first year in business, he had secured contracts with massive companies like American Express, Con Edison and Time Warner.   While most companies take at least three years to merely break even and five to become profitable, Altucher led Reset to outstanding growth almost immediately.  In fact, his company grew so fast that by the end of its second year in existence, he was able to sell it for a cool $10 million dollars.  This sale brought his total net worth to over $15 million dollars.  Not bad for a 22 year old.   Not bad for a startup company.

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Both stories highlight an underlying belief system most of us share about security.

Conventional wisdom states that you are safer in a moving vehicle while wearing a seat belt.  Considering the number of car accidents in a given year and the rate of speed that we travel on our highways (or airways) – wearing a seat belt definitely makes sense.  But seat belts, as effective as they are – do not save every life.   Sometimes that layer of security isn’t secure enough.

We are all convinced that $15 million dollars should last through multiple generations.  There isn’t a person who hasn’t daydreamed what it would be like to win the lottery or be in possession of THAT kind of money.   “If I had that amount of money,” we speculate, “I would….”   The list of “woulds” is endless.  Not on that list, however, is the scenario that the money would ever run out and you would be back to your previous standard of living.

Interestingly, we all begin our human journey in the same place – the security of a womb.  A dark place, relatively quiet, snuggled tight, secure.  For the first nine months of our existence, security is all we know.  Every need is taken care of and we float – carefree – in a loving, safe environment.  By contrast, on the day of our birth, we are ejected out of this peaceful bubble and exposed in every way possible.   Bright lights.  Loud noises.  Butt naked.  Compared to our previous environment, we enter a freezing world.   Our first contact with another human being is usually a slap from the most educated person in the room.  No wonder we come out screaming.   WHAT THE HECK IS THIS PLACE?   We spend every day for the rest of our lives trying to find security again.

We are a people who, deep down, crave and clamor for security.  We wear seat belts, eat healthy and exercise because we want to be physically secure.  We work hard, invest & save our money because we want to be financially secure.  We get married, have kids & grow friendships because we want to be relationally secure.   We believe in God, go to church & help others because we want to be spiritually secure.   There is nothing wrong with our desire to feel safer.  But, are our tactics truly working?  Are we indeed safer because we wear seat belts, save our money or go to church?  Do our feelings of safety translate into actual security?

As I write this, a friend’s mother lay on a hospital bed dying from a burst aneurism in her stomach.   Two days ago, she was cooking dinner in her kitchen.   In a mere few hours, she will no longer be with us.   Such is the unpredictable and fragile nature of life.   Just because you make a lot of money, doesn’t mean you get to keep it.  Just because you feel healthy one week does not mean you will maintain your health the next. Just this afternoon, with a full bladder and too much on my mind, I walked into the public restroom at Panera Bread.  How shocked I was to see a woman coming out of one of the stalls.   The look on her face said it all…

It was not her geographical error but… (ahem) rather mine.   #blush

Apparently my mind was as full as my bladder and I startled an unsuspecting woman “taking care of business.”   Ugh.  The point is we are all one mere accident, diagnosis or restroom door away from frightening insecurity.   Sorry ma’am.

Over the course of my life, I have learned a few things about security – mainly, how fleeting it is.  My friend Harry never smoked a day in his life and yet somehow got diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer.  Mentally astute college professors can eventually develop Alzheimer’s.   Athletes in top physical condition can suffer heart attacks.   Armored trucks can get robbed.   Famous pastors can have affairs.  Even beloved actors who play wholesome father figures on TV can be accused of heinous crimes like rape.  And if there is one place on earth where we should feel the most secure, it is church – that is, until last week’s massacre in Charleston, SC.

Security is not always secure.  Relationships that I thought were permanent turned out to be temporary.   Jobs that I thought I could not lose were gone before I knew it.   Investments that were “sure things” turned into “no-thing” in no time.   People who I thought would out-live me were gone long before their time.  Money, relationships, health, jobs, possessions, life –  all rather fragile when you come to think of it.

The Biblical character, Job, certainly learned a thing or two about security.  Referred by God Himself as the “greatest man in the east,” Job had everything you could want:

  • status with God,
  • wealth beyond measure,
  • a spouse,
  • a large family and
  • a booming business.

If anyone had security, it was Job.   That is, until God decided to make sure Job understood where his security really came from.   In an unbelievably short period of time (minutes, not days), Job lost it all.  In fact, before chapter 3 of the book that bears his name, Job was reduced to an unrecognizable stature.  Having lost his money, business, children, home and good health – Job sat alone – in agony – with a handful of friends contemplating his unfortunate turn of events.   Bad things, we think, should not happen to good people.   Job was not just good people.  By God’s own definition, he was truly the greatest.   And sometimes the greatest among us need to be reminded Who is truly keeping things secure.   How did Job handle his most insecure moment?   Our ancestor of the faith teaches us a proper response:

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’”

If there is one thing that tends to accompany a trial or tragedy, it’s perspective.   Sadly, we often have to lose a loved one for us to truly appreciate what they meant to us.   It’s not until we are in a hospital room or wheelchair that we realize just how precious our health really was.  It often takes turbulence in our lives to remind us that we are simply wingless creatures, sitting in a metal tube, traveling 600 miles per hour some 35,000 feet above the ground.   In those scary moments we recognize it’s not just a human pilot who determines our ultimate destination.

In the ashes, Job had received the gift of perspective.   He realized that he came into this world with nothing and he will one day leave this world with nothing.  His losses, with that perspective, helped him realize his place, however painful that place was in the moment.  His greatness was not a result of his accomplishments but his divine Accomplice.

It’s easy for us, in the midst of our loss, to let the loss taint our current perspective.  When someone loses a job, loved one, health, status, peace, home – it’s easy to let that loss consume our thoughts and life.  Many times, it’s the only thing we can see.  And sometimes, focusing on the loss can blind us from not only seeing the possibilities on the other side of the fence, but who our ultimate Neighbor is.

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By the end of 1998, Altucher had sold his hugely successful website design firm (Reset, Inc) and had (according to his estimation) about $15 million dollars in the bank.   $15 million dollars, in any economy, should last several lifetimes.  That amount of income would easily put Altucher in the category of “financially secure.”   For Altucher, however, that security was short-lived.  Financial mismanagement, overspending and poor investments created a trifecta of loss.   What should have lasted forever was gone – all of it – in less than 24 months.   From $15 million to bankruptcy in under two years.   For Altucher, it was his Job moment.

Muhammad Ali enjoyed over a decade of untouchable wins and unstoppable victories.  It was widely believed (especially by Ali) that he was unbeatable.   Then, on March 8, 1971 the security of that belief was rocked when an opponent by the name of Joe Frazier put the “greatest” in his place.  It was the first loss that Muhammad Ali experienced in 32 professional bouts.  The greatest was no longer the greatest.  Two years later, Ali would hit the canvass again, this time suffering a broken jaw and devastating loss to boxing champion, Ken Norton.   The “greatest” boxer was never the greatest again.

And that’s the point.  Security, this side of eternity, is fleeting.  I understand that feeling, all too well.  As a small child, I watched my Dad die in front of me.   I have been stranded on the side of the road (on more than one occasion) because of a flat tire or dead battery.  I have stood in court and heard my marriage officially declared over.  I have scoured the classifieds during my extended periods of unemployment.  I have experienced the loss of freedom.  I have been “un-friended” numerous times over the years.  Daily I deal with the pain of being separated from my own children.  My life has been a constant, painful reminder that my security is not found in people, places or things.

Where is your security today?  Is it in your net worth?  Is it in your strongest relationship?  Is it in your body image, intellect, bank account or current employment?   The truth is, while all those things are certainly acceptable to enjoy, there will come a day when you will be rocked to the core and left with little to no security.  In that moment, where will you turn?

May you turn to the only One who can provide true security, in this life and in the one to come.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

The Quiet Divorce

rod artersI recently read a story about Joe, a young man born and raised in a small 3rd world village. He comes from a large, blue-collar family and he enjoys being a part of a very close-knit community. In fact, in his area, Joe can’t go anywhere without being greeted by family or running into a friend.

Joe recently fell in love and got engaged to a wonderful young lady, another local with a sweet disposition. Excitement fills the air whenever two love birds engage. Ask anyone in his circle and they would tell you that Joe’s future is bright and full of hope.

Well, it was bright, that is, until the dark cloud appeared.

Joe was recently informed that his beloved fiancée had been unfaithful during their engagement. To make matters worse, the “infidelity” led to an unplanned pregnancy. No one, especially Joe, saw this coming. And if all of that isn’t hard enough for him to handle, Joe lives in a small-town “fishbowl.” This news cannot be contained. Knowledge of this “affair” will quickly spread in this small community. I mean, how do you hide a pregnant belly in a town like his, especially before the wedding day?

To say Joe feels wronged, is putting it lightly. To say that he experienced the sting of betrayal is an understatement. There isn’t a person out there who can’t sympathize with his situation. Joe is a great guy who certainly doesn’t deserve this treatment. This news is especially crushing given the conservative climate that Joe lives in. Infidelity and divorce are nearly unheard of in his part of the world.

Sadly, Joe’s predicament is hardly news for us in today’s current Western culture. We seem to hear story after story of great men and women being cheated on by their self-centered spouses. So common is this in our day and age that it hardly raises an eyebrow any more. If we don’t learn of our friends or family behaving badly, we certainly get our fair share of “juice” from tabloid television. There was a time when news of infidelity would shock those who learned of it. We are well beyond that reaction. Take a brief stroll down the Facebook news feed and it is not uncommon to watch ex-husband’s spewing the latest gossip about their philandering ex-wives. Follow along the twitter road for just a few minutes and you will, no doubt, see the angry tweets from scorned women. I can’t tell you how many derogatory memes I see, on a daily basis, calling out the liars, cheaters and scoundrel behavior that exists in today’s moral climate. Social media has not only made it easier to broadcast the sins of the sinner, but it has made it instantly viral. There is not a one of us who cannot, with great detail, repeat the injustices of our friends who have swam in the same murky waters as Joe. In fact, perhaps you have shared the salacious details of your injustices with others. With so many willing and supportive ears to hear, it’s hard not to.

And therein lies the reason Joe’s story is so powerful. The primary thing that separates Joe’s heartbreaking situation from our own is not the situation itself but how he handled it.

Though he could have publicly “outed” his wife-to-be, he didn’t. Though he held the hard-to-ignore “victim” card, he chose not to play it. He didn’t gather family or friends and “vent” or even attempt to create a verbal lynch mob. He didn’t slander his fiancée or give in to the common excuse for gossip, otherwise known as a “prayer request.” In fact, unless you were really paying attention, you may not have even noticed his response or recognized its significance.

We live in a “no-fault divorce” country. Joe does not. We live in a “she-did-me-wrong-she-should-pay” cul de sac. Joe does not. In fact, in Joe’s tiny village, his fiancée’s actions could be punishable by death in a court of law. And Joe knew it. One word from Joe and her life could be over. Justified capital punishment.

Fortunately for her, Joe is not your typical man. Before I tell you how Joe handled this complete injustice, let me ask you this….

How have you handled the injustices aimed your direction?
What has your response been when someone has done you wrong?

Even if our situation is different than Joe’s, haven’t we all experienced some sort of injustice at some point in our life by someone close to us?

  • A cheating husband?
  • A lying girlfriend?
  • An abusive ex-spouse?
  • An absent parent?
  • A disobedient child?
  • A difficult neighbor?

We don’t have to go too far in our past to realize that someone somewhere has done us wrong. And sadly, our human nature tempts us to make sure everyone we know – knows it.

Joe’s story is so familiar to you that had I not masked Joe’s true identity, you may have missed the impact of his actions.   You know Joe as Joseph who was engaged to Mary, the future mother of Christ. You know how the story ended – he did indeed marry Mary and become the earthly father of God. But before he was convinced by an angel that this union was of God (Matthew 1), Joseph fully believed that Mary had been unfaithful and that a divorce was required. But it’s not the impending divorce that is significant but the manner in which Joseph desired to handle it:

Quietly.

Did you catch that?    Without.fanfare.

Matthew shares the details in chapter one of the book bearing his name,  “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19)

Who responds like that?? Instead of seeking revenge, he chose to protect. Instead of broadcasting her “sin,” he chose to keep it secret. She was on the verge of being DISgraced and Joseph simply removed the DIS.  From a human vantage point, she deserved the judge’s gavel, instead he gave her heavenly grace.  And he chose to handle it privately – even in the midst of a tight-knit community.

Does that describe your heart?  Not wanting to disgrace the one who disgraced you?
Would you send those who wronged you… away… secretly?    Do you?

As people, we tend to keep the things WE have done wrong under lock and key.  If it’s OUR dirty little secret, we are Fort Knox in how it’s protected. By contrast, if it’s someone else’s failure, we become the New York Times. We tend do whatever we can to bring our sins to the grave while broadcasting the sins of others on Satellite radio.

Joseph is different. He chooses to keep secret what Mary had (in his mind) done wrong. This response would not only be unusual in Joseph’s day – it’s just as unusual in ours. How many scorned wives are quick to share the stories about their husband’s failures to anyone who will listen?  How many betrayed ex-husbands search for ways to speak ill about the sins of the ex-wife? And yet, somehow, Joseph doesn’t take the bait. It’s not like he didn’t have motivation. It’s not like he lacked ammunition. It’s not like he wouldn’t have the full support of the entire community on his side. And yet, his response is so counter to what most of us would do or (ahem) have done.

How is he able to respond in such a gracious way?  What kind of man can react like this to such betrayal?  Who possesses such self-control?   Again, the text reveals who:

“A righteous man.”   (Matthew 1:19)

Gulp.

In this brief description, we find the true hypocrisy lodged deep within our own hearts. We are quick to crucify the ones who disgrace us and yet justify our attempts to disgrace them in return.  When we trash someone’s reputation for past sins against us, are we really any better simply because they sinned differently?   Joseph was wronged (in his mind) and yet chose to do right in spite of it. Being wronged did not give him the freedom, as a man of character, to justify the loose lips that gossip ultimately encourages, even if the gossip was true.

As I think about our current culture of divorce and revenge, Joseph’s example provides at least 3 reasons why a quiet divorce is a better divorce:

1) It is the most honoring way to treat the other party. Long before Jesus shared the “Golden Rule” with his disciples in the famous Sermon on the Mount, his father had lived out this principle with His mother, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”  There is not a one of us who wouldn’t love to be in the position to receive quiet grace after we have broken a loud law. Joseph extended this grace to Mary and allowed her an opportunity to experience as much anonymity as he could give in an environment of inevitable exposure.

2) It creates the possibility for a comeback. Imagine that Joseph told the entire village what had happened. Imagine that the entire community knew of Mary’s apparent infidelity and already judged her in the court of public opinion. How hard would it be for Mary to come back with dignity? How hard would it be for Joseph to have a change of mind and reconsider making the relationship work? More importantly in this situation, how hard would it be for those same people to ultimately believe in the coming Messiah, if they were first led to believe Christ’s existence was merely the consequence of an adulterous affair?

3) It reveals a different spirit & inner strength that lives within you. Anyone can cry foul. Anyone can gossip, slander and bring public humiliation to a public sin. Anyone can get the masses to support you in how you have been wronged. But it takes a true person of character to remain silent in the midst of injustice. It shows an amazing depth of integrity to try to protect the one who wronged you.   Yes, they may deserve a public thrashing but does that mean we have to provide one?

Joseph aimed to protect Mary and deflect her shame not because she deserved it but because he was righteous.   In other words, his reaction was based on his character, not hers.

I’m not suggesting that you need to suffer in silence just to protect the perpetrator of your pain. I’m not saying you can’t share your story with a counselor, friend or family member. But I would say the people you choose to share with should be a trusted few and in a position to help you carry the emotional load. Many times sharing your pain with the masses (or children – NO!) creates more damage than the initial wrong done to you.  Sharing with one close friend is one thing.  Sharing it on your public social media wall is another.

As you process the wrong done to you, be careful not to do wrong in retaliation.  It’s easy to verbally hang someone in the public square.   What’s easy and right are often too different things.   Treat people the way you want to be treated.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed hi, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:14, 17-21)  

 

#imykd

God in our playpen

rod artersIf you grew up in America, you have probably heard someone say at some point… “Jesus loves you.”

If you have watched any significant sporting event in this country, you have probably seen some Christian fanatic holding up a sign that reads “John 3:16” – the verse that proclaims, “God so loved the world…”

If you have watched the Oscars or Grammys or any television award show, you have heard our American idols thanking the Almighty for their gifts and successes.

If you have driven on nearly any road anywhere in our country (particularly the South) you have no doubt passed a Church with a sign that reads some sort of creative Christian message.

And if somehow you were insulated from such Christian landscape, you would certainly see a posting on some social media site thanking God, asking for prayer or sharing a meaningful Bible verse.  Such is the blessing of living in a country with so much “Light.”

In spite of all of this, however, it is still possible for someone to grow up in “Christian” America and not hear or understand certain biblical truths often taken for granted by those of us who grew up in Christian homes or attending Christian churches.

Our lack of Biblical literacy is stunning.   Though our country has been deeply influenced by Biblical language and references, many today are unaware when they are mentioned.

In Jay Leno’s popular segment “Jay-walking”, Leno asks average people on the street a variety of seemingly easy questions.  Their answers reveal their biblical ignorance.

  • Leno: “Can you name one of the 10 commandments?”
  • Girl: “Freedom of Speech?”
  • Leno: “What is the opening line of the Bible?”
  • Guy: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song “Hallelujah” (recently re-done by Rufus Wainwright) is another example.  The lyrics contain clear biblical references to both King David and Samson, though those without a biblical knowledge would miss it.

Movie directors will occasionally highlight a biblical event (like the Flood in Genesis 6) but unfortunately those who see Hollywood’s recent version of Noah may not realize the gross inaccuracies unless they are familiar with the biblical account.   Click here for a trusted review.

Many cultural phrases find their root in the Bible.  Many have heard the phrase even as they are unaware of its biblical reference.

  • “My brother’s keeper” – Genesis 4:9
  • “Handwriting on the wall” – Daniel 5:5
  • “Eat, drink and be merry” – Ecclesiastes 8:15
  • “Go the extra mile” – Matthew 5:41
  • “Blind leading the blind” – Matthew 15:14
  •  “Good Samaritan” – Luke 10:25-37
  • “Thorn in the flesh” – II Corinthians 12:7
  • “Walk on water” – Mark 6:45-52

To our grandparents, “King James” would have been a reference to the Bible.  Today, it’s a clear reference to a professional basketball player.

The irony is that the Bible continues to be the greatest selling book of all time.  A Gallup study claims that 93% of Americans have at least one copy in their home.  YouVersion’s Bible App has well over 100 million downloads.  The implication is that over 100 million people are walking around with a Bible in their pocket.  We may possess a Bible but unfortunately, it clearly does not possess us.

I was reminded of this recently when I received a phone call from a man named “Sam” who I had met from my time in jail.   Sam was an interesting character.  Numerous times, he seemed on the verge of “snapping.”  Jail is a place where that is not entirely uncommon.  Sam spent a lot of time alone, walking “the yard” in endless circles.  One particular day, he seemed extremely unglued.   Realizing that he was hurting and spiraling out of control, I approached him and began a conversation.   That conversation led to a friendship and that friendship has, over the ensuing months, led to several conversations.  In our last one, he asked me an interesting question.

“Rod, I get that God loves me.  At least that’s I hear.  What I don’t get is why He had to die.   And how does His death have anything to do with me?”

On one hand, I was stunned.   Here is a man, in his early 50’s who grew up (of all places) in the South.  In fact, he was raised not only in the “Bible Belt” but pretty much on the buckle!   And he had no idea why Jesus died and what it had to do with him.  In my conversation I reviewed both the good and bad news about our spiritual situation and why Jesus’ death has profound significance on every human life; past, present and future.  It wasn’t until I shared the following illustration that the lights seemed to go on in his head.

IFSuppose a young child is wearing nothing but a diaper as he sits unsupervised in his playpen.  After awhile the child discovers how to remove his diaper and does so with great satisfaction.  Enjoying his newfound freedom, the child explores the boundaries of his playpen when he eventually discovers an interesting brown object on the playpen floor.  Unaware that the brown object is his most recent bowel movement, he picks it up.  By the time he realizes that this is not a toy or something he really wants to touch, it’s too late.  It is now on his hands and consequently everything else he touches is soon tainted with the disgusting substance.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the smell that accompanies his decision is a constant reminder of his situation.  In fact, the more the child tries to rid himself of the stinky substance, the worse his situation becomes.  Even if the child could ignore his plight, cover himself with perfume or perform a number of good works to make himself feel better, the reality remains – he is still hopelessly covered in a mess of his doing.  In a very little time, the child and his environment are completely covered in “sin” with no ability to clean himself or his world.   The longer he remains in it the worse it becomes.  The child is in need of a savior, someone outside his world who is pure, clean and able to save him.   Eventually, driven by his great need, the child does what anyone in his situation would do – cry for help.  The more frustrated he is with his predicament, the louder and longer he cries.  Fortunately, the child’s Father is nearby – just one prayer away – and not only willing but able to save His child from himself and his sinful mess.

And what is the Father’s motivation?  Duty?  Obligation?   Exhaustion from hearing him cry?   Money?  Future promises of change?   Praise?   Nah, this Father is not enticed by anything like that.

His motivation is much simpler.  In a word:

LOVE.

The truth is, we all live in the playpen.  We all have taken off the diaper and have touched things we shouldn’t have.  We all are hopelessly trying to deal with a mess we are incapable of fixing on our own.  As the Bible states, “we all like sheep have gone astray.”

Some have only strayed down the street.  Others of us have left the country for years.  Regardless, every one of us is spiritually homeless, morally bankrupt and longing to find our way home.  We are all in need of a Savior.  We desperately need someone to climb into our playpen and clean up our messy situation.

That’s what today, Good Friday, is about.

It’s about a God-Man who couldn’t stand to see His children sitting in the playpen alone.   It crushed His heart to see the crown of His creation hurting and helpless.  As a Heavenly Parent, He came to Earth, entered the playpen and took on our spiritual crap.

And what did He find in the playpen?   You, me and everyone else we know.   He found absolute physical, moral, spiritual, and relational filth – in every corner.   Murderers, rapists, disease, adulterers, blindness, tax cheats, prostitutes, corrupted priests, atheists, pornographers, deafness, child molesters, thieves, leprosy, pimps, death, human traffickers, liars, demon possessed, Pharisees, etc.  The list is as long as it is ugly.

And here is the best part.

He didn’t enter the playpen because of our cuteness.  He didn’t enter because of our promises or good works or religious track record.  (Titus 3:1-7)  He didn’t enter because our parents gave money or our Grandmother prays to dead saints.  Nope, He didn’t enter because of the relationship we had with Him.   Instead, He entered our playpen because of the relationship He wanted.

He so loved that miserable, wretched, messy, sinful child while I was still in that miserable, wretched, messy, sinful condition and loved me out of it in spite of myself.

That is what Good Friday is about.   A God who climbs in our disgusting playpen, cleans us up and gives us the ability to have not only a new life (II Corinthians 5:17) – but an abundant one as well. (John 10:10)

It IS a Good Friday indeed.

Map My Run – death trail version

rod artersI decided to go for a run last night.  It’s the first time I have run (without chasing a soccer ball in the process) in a long time. At least since last week.  In the neighborhood I currently live, there are “trails” (think wooded with sidewalks) that weave around townhouses, past tennis courts, lakes and through tunneled roads.  Since this was my first time on this trail, I was unsure as to where it led, how far it went or how to get back home.  Notorious for a poor sense of direction, I figured I better bring my i-phone and i-pod as back up.  The i-pod would undoubtedly distract me from the pain.  The i-phone would allow me to dial 911 quickly or use the google map app for when I get lost.  (Yes, I fully expected this to happen.)

I started out like any serious runner: walking.  Almost immediately, two physically fit white men sprinted past me.  I’m pretty sure they were Kenyan.   Afraid they would detect my novice running status, I tried to give them the impression that I had just finished a triathlon and was in my cool down stage.   I don’t think they were buying it as triathletes do not (I’m sure) run this trail.   Triathletes sweat a lot and I, somehow, was as dry as a Q-tip.  I decided to stretch various limbs prior to my run as I felt that was a prudent idea for a man in his upper upper 30’s.   39-ish.   With 5 years of experience.

After a full 20 minutes of employing every known exercise in the universe (aka stalling) as my pre-run ritual (stretching, synchronizing my watch, getting my playlist together, adjusting my ear buds, praying to the god of oxygen, faking the aforementioned cool down stage, checking for ticks, checking my stocks, checking my email, double knotting my shoestrings, jumping jacks, etc.) – I was finally ready to begin.  Like the majestic trot of a pure breed Arabian racehorse I began the “jog pace” (minus the majestic, pure breed & Arabian part).

I took about 3 steps into my run and remembered the “Map My Run” app on my phone.  I downloaded the app the same time everyone else downloaded it – January 1st, Resolution Day.   Mine still had cobwebs on it.   Apparently there is an option for every type of pace (walk, cross-country, power walk, dog walk, etc).  Though the “sprint” option was tempting (I could die sooner), I selected “trail run” as that most closely resembled what I wanted to do.   At least in theory.  On paper.   Vicariously through someone else.   After that, I hit the “start workout” button and my jog had officially commenced.

At first, it felt great to get outside and be on the trail.  Of course, I was still standing still.  When I actually started to move forward, somehow all hell broke loose with my body. It was as if 44 years of resentment built up and my body was now angry or something.  Shin splints appeared out of nowhere.  My tongue immediately became devoid of all moisture.  My lungs collapsed.  At least they felt like they did.   My legs seemed heavy.  Incredibly, someone – without my knowledge – succeeded in placing lead bricks in my sneakers.   I think I got chicken pox.  How was I going to be the first man to run a 3 minute mile with all of these medical anomalies happening at once?  To make matters worse, the stupid app had a timer on it and I knew time was ticking.  Why do we add unnecessary pressure on our run with a ticking clock?   Is the universe going to explode if I don’t make it home in 30 minutes?   I’m already stressed about my run – I don’t need some ticking metric to point out how slow I really am.   I looked at my watch with disdain.  I had been officially “running” for about 30 seconds now.  This was not a good start.

By all accounts, my pace is slow.   Think turtle with a sprained leg after triple bypass surgery.   Keeping up with the Kenyans (or the Kardashians) is not the goal.  Jogging this trail, I reminded myself, is not a race.  So what if the white Kenyans were in another zip code by now?  This is not a race.  So what if the elderly man in the motorized electric chair is passing me?  It’s not a race.  So what if the seven-year old girl walking her disabled poodle lapped me – twice?  It’s not a race.   So what if I’m already parched within 50 feet of my door?  It’s not a race.   I’m here to get some exercise and lose some weight and enjoy God’s beautiful creation.   Oh, and die of cardiac arrest.

Trail runs are interesting, if I can even call this one a trail.   Apparently, in America, we can’t even allow our trails to be natural.   Just a few suggestions for the future trail makers of America:

  1. First of all, there should be a law requiring neighborhoods to mark their trees.   Ribbons or spray paint would work just fine.   How can I know where I’m going when every tree looks identical to each other?  I mean, they all have bark and green leaves.  How in the world could I possibly tell I was circling the same Pine tree for 45 minutes straight?
  2. Second, there should be signs at every “V” in the trail.  Numerous times I had to choose between going “right” or “left.”  I felt like Neo in the Matrix picking a pill.  It reminded me of the Encyclopedia Brown book series I read as a kid – determining my own ending.  If I went “right,” was that where lemonade and Dr. Scholl’s inserts would be?   If I went “left,” would I encounter snakes, leprechauns or other dangerous creatures?   Which way did the freaking Kenyans go?
  3. Third, where are the helpful “you are here” maps that they provide in the malls?   Granted, they would be impossible to create as even the “you are here” map makers would have no clue where they were.   Even so, it’s the thought that counts.   If you are lost in a mall, at least you are indoors and not far from the food court.  Survival is not a question.   On the trail, sunset was imminent – at least 4 hours away.  That didn’t give me much time to find my way home.

As I continued to wander in the wilderness like Moses, I thought about those wilderness survival shows on TV.  I wondered if I would have to cut off my arm to survive or what animal I’d have to kill and eat to make it through the night.  I mean, it was 68 degrees out and I was developing a slight chill.   At one point, I recalled a story from childhood that may have proven helpful.  It was a beautiful story about 2 trail running children.  Something about leaving food on the ground.  Wait a minute, wasn’t someone trying to kill them?  I really should have paid more attention to my bedtime stories.  Besides, I wasn’t sure how feeding the squirrels was going to help me so I immediately abandoned that train of thought.

About 55 minutes into my “run,” I came to the conclusion that I was officially lost.  Even though I had only traveled about .3 miles from my front door, I began to panic.  I wondered if Park Rangers had been deployed to look for me yet?   Were there teams of individuals canvassing the neighborhood organizing a search for me?   Was the local police chief holding a press conference?  I wonder what picture my roommate provided to show others what I looked like?  Secretly, I hoped a Facebook page was created for me (“Support group for fans of the pseudo trail jogger“).   Then the thought hit me – “What if I became the next Reader’s Digest story?”   Those stories always seem to involve a bear mauling.   This, by the way, is not helpful thinking when you are alone, on a foreign trail, in broad daylight, in the middle of suburbia.   At one point, I was so concerned, I almost drew a panicked self portrait of myself to hang on a nearby tree – left behind as a clue to my whereabouts.  (Note to self: bring a sharpie and paper next time I go trail running.)

As for the i-pod, which was to serve as the ultimate distracter of pain?  It’s final song was ironic, if not taunting.   “You’re only human (2nd wind)” from Billy Joel:

“Don’t forget your second wind
Sooner or later you’ll get your second wind
It’s not always easy to be living in this world of pain
You’re gonna be crashing into stone walls again and again
It’s alright, it’s alright.

Don’t forget your second wind.   Wait in your corner until that breeze blows in.”

Note to self: Update my playlist before my next trail crawl.

As I finished my near death trail running experience, it led me to think about running as a past time.   We don’t time our experience at the grocery store.  We don’t time our dentist or car mechanic.  And yet, somehow, we put this pressure on ourselves that we have to run a certain distance in the speed of light or we are out of shape.

No sir.   No more.

As for me, I’m getting rid of my watch.  In it’s place, I’m strapping a calendar to my wrist.   It doesn’t “tick” and is much more encouraging and gracious.

I began my run in May.  If, by the end of June, I’m not back – come look for me.

Until then, I’m circling the trees and feeding the squirrels in search of some Kenyans… who I have a feeling are back at home “liking” some Facebook support page.

Names will never hurt me?

sticks and stones“Sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me”.

The year was 2nd grade and I clearly remember chanting this well known proverb at some kid on the playground as a rebuttal for the names he was calling me.  If memory serves me right, I think he called me fat.  I may have been many things in my life, but fat was never one of them.  I grew up as a stunt double for a string bean.

Years later, I still remember the hurtful words and the sting I felt as they were hurled my direction.   As I look back at that proverb, I realize now it was a lie. Names do hurt – sometimes even more than a stick or a stone.  And sometimes – the names that hurt the most are not the names that are true – but the names that are not.  No one likes to be called a name but worse than that, no one likes to be misrepresented or have our character or integrity questioned.

Years ago I wrote an article for a local Christian magazine that clearly upset one of its subscribers.  This reader, a woman, wrote a long, nasty letter to my editor complaining about my article and was outraged that I would be given such a broad audience given my particular views.   In fact, before this Mom had signed her name, she placed my influence in the same dangerous category as cult leaders Jim Jones and David Koresh and serial killer, Charles Manson.   What a group to be associated with!   I marveled at how one person (me!) could be viewed so differently.   To most, I was a Christian writer merely trying to encourage the masses in their journey.   To her, I was contemporaries with psychopathic murderers promoting dangerous ideologies.

This dichotomy drew my attention to the Person of Christ.   There is no Person in history that had a more polarizing effect on those He encountered.  Surely He would understand the frustration of misrepresentation:

  • The holy One was confused for the evil one (Matthew 12:24).
  • The heavenly One was assumed to be a mere earthling (Matthew 16:14).
  • The Lord of the Sabbath was accused of being a Sabbath breaker (Mark 3:1-6).
  • The Truth (John 14:6) was called a liar (Mark 2:6).
  • The Innocent (Luke 23:30) was declared guilty.
  • He created the world (John 1:3, Hebrews 1:2, Colossians 1:16-17) that rejected Him.
  • He governed the universe (Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:17) while allowing a corrupt political system to govern Him (John 18:12).

If anyone understands misrepresentation, it is Christ.   If anyone can empathize with a maligned character, He can.  If anyone knows how it feels to have His words twisted, His commands misunderstood and His actions misinterpreted, He gets it.  And how did He handle this constant frustration?   How did He deal with such gross injustice from such an inferior and ignorant people?

With silence.  (Mark 14:61)

The all-powerful God of the Universe chose silence.

No excuses.   No defense.  No justification.  No rebuttal.  No cross examination.   No name calling.  No sarcastic retort.   No biting criticism.   No cursing.   No complaints.  No bargaining.  No threats.   Not even a disrespectful question.

Just a holy, deafening silence.

But why?

Why not defend Himself – especially when He was on trial with a charge punishable by death?

Why not explain His actions with His intimidating, thunderous voice?

Why wouldn’t He reinforce His words with a flash of lightning or some show of power?

Why not turn His accusers into a newt?

In other words, why wouldn’t He handle this injustice in the same way any of us would?    I can only come to one conclusion.

Trust.

He simply trusted God to vindicate His situation.   He was confident that God, in His timing, could right His wrongs.  God, somehow, would be His sufficient defense.   He took His Father at His word, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)

There is nothing more carnal and natural in the heart of man than revenge.  There is nothing more gratifying to the flesh than paying back an immediate wrong – especially if the payback is verbal.   And when we enter the revenge business, we immediately stop walking by the Spirit and begin walking in the flesh.   We stop living by faith and we start living by sight.   Revenge is what anyone can do in their own power.  It’s the natural bent of a natural heart.  But trusting God to handle it, in HIS time, in His way – that takes a level of dependence and obedience and trust that only those who walk in the Spirit can pull off.   This was not only Christ’s desire but His only plan – a plan that defies reason, logic and sense to flesh walkers.

How many of us have been mistreated by a boss or co-worker?  How many of us have endured the abuse of a parent, spouse or ex?   How many of us have been disrespected by our children or a neighbor or a stranger?  How many have had things said about us in court (even the court of public opinion) that simply are not true or entirely accurate?   Have you been called a name recently?  Has someone said untrue things about you?  Has your character been assassinated or your integrity questioned?  Has someone doubted your word or accused you of wrong doing?  Have you or your actions been misinterpreted or misrepresented?

You’re in good company.

As Solomon once penned, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven— A time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7)

Perhaps it’s time to grab the dusty weapon of silence off your shelf and see what God can do with it when you keep your mouth shut.

His words, not yours, are life-giving and can change hearts, minds, lives, nations and events like NOTHING else.

Trust Him in the silence.

 

The breath in my shadow’s nostril

If you have ever spent time with little kids, you will remember how slow the clock moves for them.   Send a disobedient three year old to their room for a 5 minute “time-out” and they will complain how long they have to stay in there.  If you didn’t know better, you would think (by the sound of their whiny complaint) they had been rotting in their room for days.   Or tell a 10 year old they can have an ice cream cone after you are finished with your errands.   The errands (from their perspective) take “forever,” just ask them.  Recently I heard a young woman (mid-20’s) in Wal-mart tell someone on the phone that she had been in the check-out line for “an eternity.”  I smiled as I heard her description when I realized we were in the express lane.   My belief about eternity is that you experience it in Heaven or Hell.  I can only assume which one Wal-mart would be.

I have noticed that our perspective of time changes with age.   The younger we are, the slower the hands on the clock seem to move.  The older we are, time literally flies – as the saying goes.  How many parents and grandparents have told me how quickly their children have grown up!  As a parent myself, I now understand what they mean.   One day they graduate from diapers.  The next day they graduate with a diploma.   In between those bookmarks is a blur.

Since the clock ticks and tocks at the same rate for all people of all ages in all time zones, what is it about our perspective that seems to influence it’s pace?  Elizabeth Taylor echoed this sentiment when she penned, “It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”

I recently pondered these thoughts on time as I stood next to Christopher, a friend of mine for the last 24 years.   On Monday night, June 23rd, Chris was living his life like he did every day.  By 6am Tuesday morning, Chris was laying in the ICU trauma unit, literally fighting for his life.   One day he is fine.  The next day, he is not.   One moment, he is healthy, conscious, mobile.  The next moment, he is in critical condition, unconscious and motionless.   Though no one is exactly sure what happened, his nearby mangled scooter seems to indicate an early morning accident… cause unknown.

In a room down the hallway lay another man, half his age.  Another victim of a bike accident.  Another severe head trauma.   Another one fighting for his life.  Chris was wearing a helmet.  The other man was not.   Both now waiting for the one commodity that apparently waits for no man:

Time.

At 38 years old, you would think Chris had plenty left on his clock.  In spite of his severe injuries, he still may.  Or the good Lord could take him tonight.   Only the Keeper of the clock really knows.

One thing we do know is this:

LIFE.  IS.  SHORT.

In fact, repeatedly in His love letter to us, God seems to remind us of the brevity of life.  Notice what the Everlasting Creator says about our temporary time on earth:

  • “Our span of years is as nothing before God.” (Psalm 39:5)
  • We are “but a wind that passes and does not return.” (Psalm 78:39)
  • “…our days are like a passing shadow.” (Psalm 144:4)
  • Our “days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle...” (Job 7:6-7)
  • Our “days are swifter than a runner; they flee away” (Job 9:25)
  • Our “days are like an eagle that swoops on its prey.” (Job 9:25-26)
  • “Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:3)
  • …humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils.” (Isaiah 2:22)
  • “Like a shepherd’s tent my dwelling is pulled up and removed from me…” (Isaiah 38:12)
  • “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.   The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (I Peter 1:24-25)

Think about the imagery that comes to mind with each description.

A breath in your nostril.

A passing shadow.

A wind.

A runner.

A swooping eagle.

Grass.

A tent.

Our YEARS are like NOTHING to God.

It’s as if the Heavenly Author does not want us to miss the message:

LIFE. IS. REALLY. SHORT.   

For some reason, we tend to forget this truth until it’s too late.   Too often that reality becomes crystal clear when we are lowering a casket or watching a loved one lay motionless in an ICU bed.   Our poor memory is jarred when we can’t see our children.   Our amnesia lifts when a precious relationship is no longer available to us.   It’s not until we are kneeling next to a tomb or listening to the beeps of the life saving machines in the ICU wing of a trauma unit that we recognize “the most precious resource we all have is time.” (Steve Jobs)

It’s a painful lesson I have learned and re-learned my entire life.  I buried my biological father at age 5.   I attended the funeral of several classmates in high school.  I said farewell to my best friend and youth pastor in college – both of whom died in the same tragic “accident.”  From grandparents to neighbors to co-workers to students… I have heard the mantra like an unwelcome drum beat: LIFE. IS. SHORT.  And thanks to some selfish decisions on my part, I now know a pain worse than death – the loss of relationships delivered via divorce.

What is your relational status?   Some of us are estranged from our children.  Others hold a grudge against a parent.   Some haven’t talked to their sibling in years.  Others have let pride keep us from former best friends.

The shadow is passing.

The breath in your nostril is brief.

The wind comes and goes before you know it.

The grass is withering – even now.

What will you do with the time you have left?

  • Ask for forgiveness.
  • Accept the apology.
  • Spend time with those that you love.
  • Mend the relationships dear to you.
  • Reconcile relationships while you can.
  • Say I’m sorry.
  • Tell them you love them.
  • Pick up the phone.
  • Write the letter.
  • Work out the differences.
  • Stop by for a visit.
  • Give up the grudge.

Don’t wait for the ICU room.    The grave-site is simply too late.

funeral

The only pain greater than saying goodbye to someone before you’re ready is to do so with the olive branch still in your hand.

I hope I have another opportunity with Chris.

By God’s grace, I pray I will.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” – Moses (Psalm 90:12)

********** UPDATE **********

Chris went to be with the Lord on July 11, 2014 at 5:24pm.  I was honored to be one of the few friends and family in the room to witness his last breath and watch him step out of time and into eternity.   He is now pain-free and more alive than ever before.

The other man mentioned in the post, age 19, has regained consciousness and is expected to make a full recovery.

One family ran out of time.   The other family was given some additional minutes on their clock.

Remember, “Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” (Psalm 39:3)